Updated: Nov 6, 2021
This month we are delighted to hear from Champagne Entrepreneur Fiona Perrin. Fiona was born in Lyon but is on a mission to show the North American bubble enthusiasts that their favourite tipple is way more diverse that they think. This month, she is launching her own champagne brand in collaboration with an organic grower producer and we can't wait to hear more.
Words by Fiona Perrin
Usually when you think about Champagne you spontaneously think about the big names out there. You also think about New Year's Eye, birthdays, a world full of confetti, parties, women dancing on tables, billionaires popping corks on yachts and fancy dishes of lobster and Caviar.
I’m not saying this is wrong, but that is usually how reductive the champagne world is perceived, and that is for a very good reason. This is what for years, powerful marketing of luxury houses wanted us to believe.
I think it is very difficult to have a true idea of a wine region, especially when you are a thousand miles away. Well for Champagne it’s even the case when you live just a train ride away. I like to talk about “the world of Champagne” or the “Champagne industry”, because that’s what it became. I am sure we will all agree when saying that Champagne has its own place in the wine world. I cannot think of another category, AOC or region, that have been turned into such a true
marketing product where “houses” have become real brands, like in the overall luxury industry.
To have a better idea of Champagne, I like to see it in two different worlds; the one of the “Champagne houses” or “Champagne Brands” and the one of the “Champagne growers”.
There are about 5,000 growers for 300 Houses of Champagne. But on the opposite, about 2/3 of the total champagne production is produced by houses, whereas 90% of the land in Champagne is owned by growers.
We understand that houses own very few or no vines at all, and need to buy from those growers. Through the years, this has created a kind of interdependent system, where big brands rely on the grower’s production, and growers rely on houses for regular income. Some growers are and will still be working exclusively for big brands.
But since a couple of years, a silent revolution has started and some growers are starting to exist by themselves. Some of them were already doing this for years but for many others this is pretty recent. With all the risks and challenges it take, those small producers are starting to harvest their own production and bottle cuvées under their own names. I like to see them like the artisans of the region, the hidden faces of the world of champagne.
From tiny parcels to a couple of hectares, spread out through all the different regions of Champagne, you can imagine the diversity they are offering! As this revolution started in the grower’s world, it also drove bigger attention to areas of Champagne that had for a life long been set aside.
The area of the Côte des Bars for example, that had always been disregarded by big houses, not really considered as part of Champagne before 1927, being closer to Burgundy, was considered as a second zone for champagne supplies, when Houses didn’t want to pay the full price in the “official region”.
Today, little gems are rising from this region and some of the most elegant pinot noir of Champagne is coming from this area. A couple of names to remember and to taste; Champagne Rupert-Leroy, Fleury, Vouette Et Sorbée, Robert Barbichon, Marie-Courtin just to name a few.
Starting to be interested by grower champagne is for me wanting to have a better and more realistic image of what you are drinking. In smaller production, produced directly from the hands and soul of the winemakers, you will usually find more transparency in the way champagne is produced. From the bottling date to disgorgement, as well as from their practices and methods of cultivation and production. While in Houses we look for consistency year after year, in growers
we look for diversity and the exploration of terroir.
Growers open or strengthen the path to a more natural and healthier way to work the vines and the wines. If you are looking for cleaner champagnes, growers are a great world to explore. Some will offer organic and biodynamic practices, working closer with nature. Overall what we call a “low intervention” approach with low to no use of chemicals from vine to bottle.
Some growers are also working with forgotten grapes of Champagne, like arbane,petit meslier, pinot blanc and pinot gris, offering tastes and texture we can’t find anywhere else. They are doing the work to bring back lost varieties and taste profiles in front of the seen, a work that only them are able to do.
So to conclude, I believe growers show us another vision of Champagne, especially in the export markets, where at the time only big brands were able to be distributed and represented. Now this is changing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are good and bad in both worlds; not all grower champagnes are good and clean and not all houses are bad.
Some of them are starting to experiment and realize that a healthier approach is needed, but there’s still a long way to go. But let’s put it this way, the world offered by some growers is definitely closer to authenticity and natural values. And if like me you are passionate by small and distinctive cuvées, it is a wonderful way to start and explore.
I salute the work of all those growers of champagne that speak the truth throughout their wines, and that take risks on many levels, especially financially, to craft meaningful cuvées from their hearts and lands. In my sense, this what you want to feel when opening a new bottle every time.
CEO & Co-Founder
Fiovino Selection & Champagne Rendez-vous
After spending 8 years in the wine business, in the fall of 2019, Fiona begins a new adventure with her partner, a brand new project, and is launching her own company, FioVino Selection Inc, an importing structure and online wine business based in California along with her own brand of Champagne, Champagne RendezVous by Diane Salem. The start of a whole new chapter, supporting the grower movement and showcasing the excellence of organic champagnes.
You can follow the launch of Champagne Rendez-vous here
And you can follow Fiona here